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2016 Guide to Astronomy Discoveries

By on Dec 26, 2016 in Astonishing Discoveries | 0 comments

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I try and keep up with the latest astronomy discoveries and still have a hard time catching everything. 2016 has been nothing short of exciting and has left me in awe on more than one occasion. So here’s a list of all the space science discoveries made in 2016. Be sure to bookmark this page and come back as it’ll be updated until the last day of the year. Here we go!

 

Jan 7th, 2016 – Most Distant Massive Galaxy Cluster Identified


MIT - Most Distant Massive Galaxy Cluster Identified

Credit: NASA, European Space Agency, University of Florida, University of Missouri, and University of California

2016 starts off with a grand find. Coming to you from MIT is a discovery of a gargantuan galaxy cluster that dates back 3.8 billion years just after the Big Bang. Of course, “just” is a relative term here. This galaxy cluster is a memorable name that goes by “IDCS J1426.5+3508” or our friends call it “IDCS 1426” for short. If you were to fly there it would take you about 10 billion years travelling at the speed of light. This galaxy cluster has been identified to be 1,000 times larger than our own Milky Way. You can check out the rest of this story over here.

 

January 28th, 2016 – Smiths Cloud did not Originate from Intergalactic Space but from Milky Way


Smith Cloud did not Originate from Intergalactic Space but from Milky Way

Credit: NASA / ESA

Here’s a cloud that I was not familiar with and I’m surprised I haven’t come across it before. Say hello to the “Smith Cloud.” Cloud sounds pretty friendly and fluffy but this cloud is actually up to no good. Let me explain. The Smith Cloud was discovered in the 60’s by Gail Smith. Since then scientists have tracked and been very well accustomed to its trajectory.

However, the assumption was that this cloud probably came from somewhere in outer space. Fast forward to January 2016. It turns out astronomers are surprised to find the origins of the cloud is from our very own Milky Way (what a twist!). The other thing is that this cloud is on a collision course with our Milky Way. It’s hurling at us at about 313 km/s! In any case, the real issue is in 30 million years when the Smith Cloud collides with the Milky Way it has the potential to ignite 30 million suns! For more information read the full press release here.

 

January 29th, 2016 – Moon was Produced by a Head-on Collision between Earth and a Forming Planet


Moon formed from Mars sized object - Scientists confirm theory

Once upon a time there was a debate among the scientific community of how our Moon formed. One prevailing theory was that it was a result of a Mars sized object that collided with Earth. There wasn’t an overwhelming amount of evidence but enough to be a good contender. Nevertheless, good science is a result of persistence and presenting new evidence to support the claim. That’s exactly what this group of UCLA researchers did.

They took and analyzed seven rocks brought to the Earth from the Moon itself! From that they reconstructed the impact by using unique chemical signatures presented by the rocks oxygen atoms. What they found is both the chemical signatures found in Earth and Moon rocks were actually the same! This meant the two were one at some point. If they were different chemical signatures it would mean the Moon came from somewhere else. For more details on the finding check out the full story here.

 

February 11th, 2016 – Gravitational Waves First Detected


Gravitational Waves First Detected

Credit: National Science Foundation

If there is one science discovery that truly shook the world it’s this one. Einstein predicted this over 100 years ago and in 2016 he was proven right. Gravitational waves are in fact a real thing. Einstein theorized that accelerating masses generate gravitational waves. Moreover, to detect these gravitational waves is a massive accomplishment due to the sheer complexity. Also, did I forget to mention that to identify these waves they observed two massive black holes merge together? Talk about your sci-fi come to life. For more information on this fantastic story read here.

 

February 16th, 2016 – Hubble Space Telescope Detects First Super-Earth Atmosphere


Artist’s impression of 55 Cancri e

Credit: NASA

Astronomers detect a super-Earth’s atmosphere for the first time! This is exciting for a few reasons. First reason is this super-Earth, 55 Cancri e, is about 8 times the size of our own Earth. It is located 40 light years away in planetary system 55 Cancri. The research team was able to discover that this super-Earth has presence of hydrogen and helium in the atmosphere but no water vapor. Not only was discovering what was in the exoplanet’s atmosphere exciting, but the fact they used a new technique that worked like a charm. Scientists hypothesized that the exoplanet clung onto hydrogen and helium from the nebula it originated from. To read the full story check it out here.

 

February 17, 2016 – Launch of Hitomi or Astro-H, a Spacecraft to Study Dark Matter in the Universe 


Astro-H Spacecraft - JAXA

Credit: JAXA

One of the biggest questions today is to understand dark matter and dark energy. On February 17, 2016 Japan launched their flagship telescope called Hitomi or Astro-H spacecraft. This telescope would look at high energetic particles and dark matter. This accounts for more than 3 times of matter in the universe. Meaning there is more dark matter than there are stars, gasses, planets, living creatures, atoms and anything that is considered matter.

However, the saddest part of this story is what happens later in the year. JAXA loses control of Hitomi and it starts to spin out of control. The spin itself broke up different parts of the satellite leading to a final statement from JAXA that they could no longer use JAXA for its mission. The plan (as of July 2016) is to launch a Hitomi 2 in 2020 and take budget from the 2017 fiscal year. check out the mission’s website for more information here.

 

March 3rd, 2016 –  The Most Remote Galaxy Ever Detected – GN-z11


Most distant galaxy detected - gn-z11

Credit: NASA/ESA/P.OESCH (YALE UNIVERSITY)

Earlier in 2016 astronomers detected a galaxy so old and far away that they deemed it the furthest galaxy ever identified. The galaxy GN-Z11 is located 13.4 billion light years away from Earth. Meaning that this galaxy was born only a mere 400 million years after the Big Bang occurred. On the cosmic scale that is a very short amount of time considering scientists pinpoint the birth of stars and galaxies 300 million years after the Big Bang.

The telescope that helped discover this old galaxy is none other than the Hubble! This telescope has been operating for about 26 years and it still continues to reveal such amazing discoveries. What’s even more exciting is its successor the James Webb Space Telescope. It will be much more powerful and will be able to find galaxies older than GN-Z11. Read the full article here.

 

March 9th, 2016 – InSight Mars Lander is Revived from Cancellation and Reschedules for 2018 Launch


InSight Mars Lander - JPL

Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s InSight Mars lander is a mission that will study Mars’ deep interior with geophysical instruments. The major story is that it has encountered numerous persistent problems that caused major setbacks. These setbacks were difficult and relentless even months before the initial launch date. The main reason was that there was a leak in the seismometer. However, the mission won a reprieve from NASA’s top managers despite the major issues.

Unfortunately, NASA will have to pay a penalty to United Launch Alliance (ULA) after missing their opportunity in March. The launch is now rescheduled for May 5, 2018. Good luck to NASA until then and if you’re interested in reading more about it check the full story here.

 

March 14th, 2016 – Mars Orbiter ExoMars Launches from Kazakhstan


ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter

Credit: ESA

A joint operations between European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency or Roscosmos launched their ExoMars mission. It will have a few interesting objectives. One of them is to deliver a Mars test rover called Schiaparelli and the other major one is to detect life through analyzing the atmosphere and air. This mission will not only do great science but help ESA test their rover in a real martian environment. ESA plans to send more rovers to Mars in the coming years. Read the full mission details here.

 

April 8th, 2016 – SpaceX Successfully Lands the First Stage of a Falcon 9 Rocket on a Floating Drone Ship


SpaceX Falcon 9 Lands on Drone Ship

Credit: SpaceX / Facebook Page

This is a story you may have heard about earlier in the year. It was a big deal and arguably one of the hardest to accomplish. Imagine landing a remote control drone in another country on a target that is the size of a sewer cover. Now add in the fact that it’s floating on water and bobbing up and down constantly. Suddenly you get a hint of what Elon Musk was dealing with.

The idea was to have a reusable rocket transported its payload to space then it would come back to Earth and land back on a dock for retrieval. SpaceX had tried this numerous times with all varying degrees of “failure.” However, this time around they landed it perfectly and symbolized a proven way to reuse rockets. It’s something NASA couldn’t even quite figure out. Not bad for a billionaire playboy. Read the full article here.

 

April 12th, 2016 – Breakthrough Starshot Announced – Capable of Traveling to Another Star in 20-30 Years


Starshot Breakthrough Initiatives

Credit: Breakthrough Initiatives

What a fantastic and truly inspiring story for 2016. This was a co-operation between Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner that set the goal of a spacecraft that could reach Alpha Centauri in 20-30 years. Mind you our star “neighbor” Alpha Centauri is a little over 4 light years away which results in 40 billion kilometers! That is no small distance by any means. It took our state-of-the-art Cassini spacecraft 10 years to travel to Saturn.

The spacecraft itself is operated on a sail that is 4 meters wide and will be propelled by lasers. The spacecrafts are very small and will weigh around a few hundred grams or so. It will have a camera and communication technology onboard. The objective and solution is quite impressive to say the least and has invigorated astronomers and people of tomorrow all around the world. Of course, the catch is that it may not happen until 2036 or later. It will also cost somewhere between $5-10 billion. In any case this is one mission to keep an eye out! Read the full story here.

 

April 13th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Crater 2, the Fourth Largest Satellite Galaxy of the Milky Way


Milky Way - European Southern Observatory

Credit: European Southern Observatory (ESO)

One of the most shocking facts that I’ve heard was there are satellite galaxies orbiting around the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy. Well it’s 2016 and we’re still finding more of these satellite galaxies. Astronomers discovered a new satellite galaxy dubbed “Crater 2.” It’s located 380,000 light years away from Earth in the constellation called Crater. What’s even more fascinating is that this galaxy was also discovered among 4 new objects. 3 of them are dwarf galaxies while one of them is a globular cluster. It’s amazing what we find, even in our own galactic backyard. For the full article you can read more here.

 

April 26th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover New Moon Around Dwarf Planet Makemake


Makemake gets a Moon

Credit: NASA . ESO

Astronomers discovered a new moon orbiting the dwarf planet called Makemake. This dwarf planet is the 2nd brightest object in the Kuiper Belt after the infamous dwarf planet Pluto. Leading up to this discovery scientists had discovered moons around Pluto which led them to believe there would be other dwarf planet systems harboring moons as well. They observed Makemake and turned up with nothing. This was due to the fact that they were looking “edge-on” or the glare of the dwarf planet would make it difficult to see the moon.

Finally, scientists discover the moons around Makemake which is important because they can then figure out the orbital period of the moon. That then leads into calculating the mass of Makemake and further understanding the evolution of dwarf-planet systems. For the full article read here.

 

May 2nd, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Three Potentially Earth-like Planets in the Habitable Zone of an Ultra-cool Brown Dwarf Star 


Finding Three Habitable Planets Around Dwarf Star

Credit: ESO

Located 40 light years away from Earth is an ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST. At first the star doesn’t seem like much compared to the billions of stars in the galaxy. It is slightly larger than Jupiter and redder than our Sun. However, what makes this star amazing is the three planets that orbit it. Astronomers have found planets that are Earth-like and potentially habitable. 2 of the 3 planets have very short orbital periods. In fact the amount of time it takes them to orbit their parent star is 1.5 to 2.4 days! Can you imagine the years passing by in a matter of Earth days! The 3rd planet is still yet to be determined of how long its orbital period is but could be as long as 73 days. To get the full story head on over to here.

 

May 9th, 2016 – A Transit of Mercury Occurs


Transit of Mercury 2016 - May

Credit: NASA

A transit of Mercury occurs! This is a rare occurrence that gives observers a sight to see. This transit also has a rich history where the famous scientist Johannes Kepler predicted the transit of Mercury. Even though he died before he got see that he was right about his prediction his scientific work was widely accepted after a lifetime of rejection. The next transit of Mercury will occur on November 11th, 2019 followed by November 13th in 2032. Check the full post here.

 

May 9th, 2016 – Oxygen is Detected in Martian Atmosphere for the First Time in 40 Years


Mars Globe Valles Marineris - NASA - JPL

Credit: NASA / JPL

For the first time in 40 years NASA has been able to detect the element oxygen in the martian atmosphere. Why is this a big deal for us? Well we know that Mars has gone through big changes in the last 4.5 billion years just like Earth. However, the mystery is why is Mars this desolate wasteland today? Meaning it has no active core nor a substantial atmosphere or flowing water. One way to get a better understanding is looking at these atomic markings in the atmosphere to see how elements like oxygen escaped into space. Now that we’ve found this trace we can investigate further on this mystery. Read the full story here.

 

May 10th , 2016 – NASA’s Kepler Mission Verifies 1,284 New Exoplanets 


Kepler New Exoplanet Discovery - May 2016

Credit: NASA

NASA’s Kepler spacecraft is one of my favorite missions because its job is to find alien planets in other solar systems. Might I add it does an amazing job of this despite the major challenges that took it out of commision. This time Kepler has found the single largest amount of distant planets, which is 1,284!

I might add to verify these planets the spacecraft must at least observe 3 full orbits of the targeted planet. For example if you wanted to verify our very own Jupiter, which has an orbital period of 16 years, you would need to wait 48 years! So you can imagine time isn’t exactly on your side, keeping in mind that any spacecraft or telescope we send up in space doesn’t last more than 2 decades if we’re lucky. When we hear these great feats of finding this many planets it really is quite impressive on identifying planets within a short amount of time. What’s even more exciting is some of these planets are potentially habitable and in the goldilocks zone. For more information I suggest you check out the full article here.

 

May 19th, 2016 – Scientists Find Evidence that there were Once Tsunamis 120 Meters High on Mars


Evidence of Tsunamis on Mars -

Credit: ESA

Well this one was unexpected considering Mars is currently a desolate arctic dessert. Scientists have found conclusive evidence that Mars did not only have water at one point but had tsunamis that were 120 meters high! For reference that is as tall as a 36 story building. The way scientists came to the conclusion of tsunamis is by the hypothesis which states that 3.4 billion years ago the northern lowlands on Mars was covered by an ocean. Not just any ocean. This ocean was fed by numerous destructive floods.

However, there is one issue with this hypothesis. It was the lack of evidence showing definitive paleoshoreline features. Nevertheless, researchers took a thermal map of these northern martian lowlands as well some numerical analysis and found there were 2 tsunamis that caused 30 km craters. Just let that sink in for a minute. A tsunami so great that it would actually cause 30 km craters! That is terrifying to say the least. Scientists suggest this may have been caused by a bolide impact or an object travelling at many kilometers per second and colliding with Mars. For more information read the full science journal here.

 

May 26th, 2016 – Mars was Once White not Red 370,000 Years Ago


Mars North Pole - NASA / JPL

Credit: NASA / JPL

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) used cameras and radar pinging to investigate the layers of ice and snow kilometers deep on Mars’ north pole. To the surprise of NASA they discovered that Mars would not look as red as it does today than a few hundred thousand years ago. What they found is that Mars would have actually been more of a frosty white covered planet. Since scientists don’t have rovers that can penetrate the martian polar caps to uncover the martian climate history they tried a more creative approach.

NASA used MRO to ping Mars surface 700 times per second! This radar approach allowed them to peer 2 km deep into the thick martian ice. Then that allowed scientists to create a 2-D cross-sectional map like you would see if sliced into a yummy cake. Furthermore, the 2D map showed different layers of the ice which correlated with the changes of ice accumulation at different points of Mars’ history. The accumulation has shown us that Mars has been through many ice ages. These ice ages definitely left a mark on Mars as they were treacherous.
For more information check out the full story here.

 

June 3rd, 2016 – NASA and ESA Announce that the Universe is Expanding 5%-9% Faster than Expected 


universe-milky-way-earth

Credit: NASA

This is something that could be very big if it turns out to be correct. NASA and ESA measured the speed of 19 galaxies beyond our Milky Way. What they found is that the predicted speed vs. actual were not lining up at all. Currently, we use Hubble’s law or constant as the rate the universe is expanding. This was discovered in 1917 and has been widely accepted since then.

Now with the new evidence from NASA and ESA the rate of expansion is now called into question. This is part of the beauty and rigorous process of science. For more details read the full article here.

 

June 15th, 2016 – Scientists Detect a Second Gravitational Wave Event Resulting from a Collision of Black Holes


gravity waves

Credit: NASA

Perhaps you may remember earlier in February of 2016 of the first gravitational wave detected. It was quite extraordinary because Einstein had predicted this event would happen 100 years later and he turned out to be correct! What scientists also discovered is the two black holes that collided over 1 billion years ago would expel more energy in a few moments than all the stars in the universe. It just so happened that humankind just invented the technology in the nick of time to measure this gravitational wave washing over Earth in September of 2015. In June 2016 scientists detect another gravitational wave which took 1.4 billion years to reach Earth. Not only discovering the wave a cause for celebration but the fact that scientists at LIGO were able to make two observations in just 4 months. At this rate they could make quantitative predictions for how many events would occur. For more information read the full story here.

 

June 15th, 2016 – Small Asteroid Discovered to be Earth’s Constant Companion for Centuries to Come


Asteroid 2016 0615 Earths Constant Companion

Credit: NASA

Here’s one surprise I certainly didn’t see coming. Earth has a little friend that will be keeping it company for centuries to come. Sorry Moon you’re not the only neighbor in town! This asteroid is called 2016 HO3 and its size is relatively small. There isn’t an approximate size yet but it’s estimated to be smaller than 300 feet (100 meters). It also has an interesting orbit where it leaps ahead of Earth and is closer to the Sun then falls way behind and is further away from the Sun. However, don’t fret this little guy poses no threat to Earth as the closest it gets to us is 14 million kilometers. For more information read the full story here.

 

June 23rd, 2016 – Dutch Scientists Grow Crops in “Martian” Soil Found Safe to Eat


Crops grown in martian soil

Credit: Geek.com

This is great news for people who want to live on Mars. Scientists were able to grow four vegetables and cereals in martian-like soil and found that it was safe to eat. Wohoo! That will make living on Mars that much easier. However, the one thing that isn’t ruled out is whether the crops would eventually absorb some of the lead and heavy metals found in martian soil. Nonetheless, it’s a great start and researchers were able to grow 10 crops with no traces of heavy metals. Check out the full article here.

 

June 29th, 2016 – Hydrothermal Activity May Explain Ceres Bright Spots


Hydrothermal activity may explain ceres bright spots

Credit: NASA

One of the most alluring mysteries of the dwarf planet Ceres is the bright spots. It caused wild speculation from the public as well as scientists scratching their heads on what it could possibly be. It turns out that one possible explanation is the hydrothermal activity that occurs on Ceres. The bright spots are located in the Occator Crater, which is 92 km wide and 10 km deep. In this crater scientists found sodium carbonate or a salt that forms in hydrothermal environment. This would at least explain why the spots were shown as bright reflective objects. There is still much to learn about this dwarf planet as well as these curiously bright spots. Check out the full article for more information.

 

July 4th, 2016 – Juno Spacecraft Arrives at Jupiter


Juno Spacecraft - Artist Depiction - NASA

Credit: NASA / JPL

The solar powered spacecraft called Juno arrives at Jupiter. This unique and amazing NASA mission is set out to study the interior of Jupiter as well as the first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter’s poles. The spacecraft has a Junocam or a camera where the public can vote on what area of Jupiter NASA should photograph. Check out the full article here.

 

July 11th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover New Dwarf Planet Beyond Neptune Called 2015 RR245


2015 RR245 - Dwarf Planet

If the solar system wasn’t exciting enough astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet beyond Neptune. This dwarf planet doesn’t have a name yet and is dubbed “2015 RR245.” It has a very long trip around the Sun that takes 700 years! 2015 RR245 is about 700 km in diameter and is about 120 AU’s. That means it’s about 120 times further away from the Sun as Earth is. However, since it does have a highly elliptical orbit it’s closest approach to the sun is about 34 AU. It’ll be a dwarf planet that astronomers will continue to observe and analyze to see what mysteries it holds. To read more about this check out the full story here.

 

July 20th, 2016 – First Atmospheric Study of Exoplanets Using Hubble Telescope


Atmosphere of Earth Exoplanets first detected

Credit: NASA

40 light years away from Earth lies exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c. Their atmospheres were analyzed by the Hubble Space Telescope. This is fantastic as both of these exoplanets are Earth-like which gives us more insight on how their atmosphere stacks up. Imagine trying to find a world that could be the next Earth II and you’re able to determine what the atmosphere is made up of without leaving your office chair.

Not to mention that the Hubble Space Telescope will be succeeded by the James Webb Space Telescope that will have the ability to see as far back as when the first stars were born in the universe. It’ll be exciting to see what else astronomer will find as they peer more into the details of exoplanets beyond our solar system. My favorite quote to come out of this article/discovery is “Humanity’s remote exploration of alien environments has truly started.” For more information read the full article here.

 

August 3rd, 2016 – NASA Pinpoints 216 Habitable Earth-like Planets from Kepler’s Data


NASA Identifies 216 Earth-like Planets

Credit: Chester Harman

The Kepler Spacecraft has verified over 2,000 exoplanets or planets beyond our solar system. That alone is no easy feat as it you need to confirm 3 complete orbits around its parent star. The exciting part of this story is out of this data set they found 216 planets to be in the habitable zone. Furthermore, they narrowed that list down to 20 Earth-like rocky planets that could harbor life.

That is very exciting considering they’ve scratched the surface and you already have 20 ideal candidates for researchers to hone their instruments on. Researchers are not only just looking at the planets themselves but the moons that orbit them which could also harbor life. The spread of habitable planets to non-habitable is consistent to our current model of planet formation and evolution. This just means that there is a high possibility of discovering life on another planet and finally answer the age-old question, “Are we alone?” Check out the full article for more information on this awesome discovery.

 

August 11th, 2016 – NASA Climate Models Indicate that Venus may have been Habitable in the Past


Ancient Venus - habitable

Credit: NASA

In all my years of reading about astronomy this story really got me excited. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies ran a computer simulation that would model how Venus’s climate would appear 2 billion years ago. It showed that Venus would not be the hellish planet it is today with almost 500° C or 900° F surface temperatures, but a planet with shallow liquid-water oceans. It’s a shame that Venus took a different evolutionary path and succumb to a runaway greenhouse effect. Nonetheless, I highly reccomend reading the full story here.

 

August 24th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Planet in Habitable Zone Around Nearest Star


Artist's impression of the planet orbiting Proxima Centauri

Credit: European Southern Observatory

This story was one of the big ones for 2016. Astronomers find a planet in the habitable zone dubbed the “Pale Red Dot” around the nearest star. A play on Earth’s title given by Carl Sagan called the “Pale Blue Dot.” What this means is we have our sights set on doing a flyby of this rocky planet and see with our own eyes what this planet is like. It orbits around its star in 11 days, which is incredibly fast. Imagine celebrating a birthday every week and a half!

It is a rocky planet like our own Earth but twice as big. The project called Starshot, a collaboration between Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Stephen Hawking will be the ones to lead the mission. However, because the star system is just over 4 light years away from Earth it will take at least 50 years or so to get there. This is also travelling at the fastest speeds available to us. It’s a long road but one worth it for science and exploration. Check out the full story here.

 

August 25th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Dragonfly 44 consist of 99.99% Dark Matter – Much More than All other Galaxies


Dragonfly 44 - Dark Matter Galaxy

Credit: PIETER VAN DOKKUM, ROBERTO ABRAHAM, GEMINI, SLOAN DIGITAL SKY SURVEY

Scientists discover that the galaxy called Dragonfly 44 contains 99.99% dark matter. This is considered unusually abnormal as the amount of mass this galaxy holds is about a trillion solar masses. That is the same amount of mass that our Milky Way touts. However, the biggest difference between the two is Dragonfly 44 is very very dim. The stars alone in the galaxy barely make up the mass of the galaxy indicating that dark matter is at play here. This finding has caused many scientists to look for other galaxies that may exhibit the same characteristics as Dragonfly in hopes to find more evidence of dark matter. Check out the full article here.

 

August 27th, 2016 – NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Makes its Closest Approach to Jupiter, within 4,200 km of the Cloud Tops


Juno over Jupiters Top Clouds

Credit: NASA / JPL

Juno Spacecraft or probe makes its closest pass above Jupiters top clouds by 4,200 km. This is the closest any spacecraft has ever been to Jupiter without entering its atmosphere. Juno’s mission is to study Jupiter’s interior as well as the different layers of the atmosphere. Juno is also the first spacecraft to orbit around Jupiter’s poles. For more on this story read more here.

 

August 28th, 2016 – NASA’s HI-SEAS IV Concludes its One Year Mars Colony Simulation


HI-SEAS IV Habitat-hawaii

Credit: HI-SEAS/University of Hawaii

For one year a group of 6 people lived in a closed off environment to simulate what it would be like living on Mars. It’s not often NASA runs these sorts of long duration simulations and shows how serious NASA is about Mars. The simulation itself included things like wearing a spacesuit when leaving the habitat, working with no privacy, or being conservative with resources or food. The mission has various challenges and restrictions that will test humans physically as well as psychologically. For more information check out the full story here.

 

August 29th, 2016 – First DNA Sequencing Done in Space


Kate Rubins - DNA Sequencing in Space

Credit: NASA

For the first time in humankind NASA was able to sequence DNA in microgravity. This is a major deal. Why? Because now we know it’s possible which means astronauts can now diagnose illnesses, or identify different microbes growing in microgravity. Especially when thinking about longer flights or missions to planets like Mars and beyond, sequencing DNA or being able to analyze health more closely is a major benefit. Also, take the following into account. Currently we only know that life exists on Earth and have a sample size of one. However, now that we can sequence DNA this means we can identify if life beyond Earth has DNA as well or if it’s something completely different. If the latter then that opens up a whole new area of discovery for humankind. For more information read the article here.

 

September 1st, 2016 – Annular Solar Eclipse Occurs

Annular solar eclipse near Mbeya 1 sep 2016

Credit: David Bygott, https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidbygott/

An annular solar eclipse occurs! It’s a beautiful site that happens once a year and has been a part of humankind culturally for thousands of years. Depending on where you are on Earth you can get a perfect view like this. Of course, never look directly at the eclipse as you can damage your eyes. The next annular solar eclipse happens on February 26th, 2017. Mark your calendars!

 

September 5th, 2016 – ESA Philae Lander Found on Comet 67P!


ESA Philae Lander found

Credit: ESA

The infamous mission called Rosetta was given one of the hardest tasks in space exploration. It was to catch up and intersect the comet without crashing into it. Then once stable Rosetta would orbit the comet and when the timing was just right and everything was in position it would land a rover called Philae on the comet itself! The entire world watched in 2014 as Rosetta deployed Philae. However, the lander did not land so smoothly and had a few complications that caused the lander to tip over. Philae did get some photos and was able to communicate back to Rosetta but it was unreliable and difficult. What made it more heartbreaking is the lander was solar powered and because it tipped over it was covered by a shadow from a rock. This caused the lander to go into hibernation mode until it woke up when the comet was closer to the sun.

Literally a month before the Rosetta mission came to a final close the team was able to snap the photos shown above and see Philae with their own eyes. This was a huge load off as ESA could finally understand the complications more clearly. It allowed the story to come to a close and let Philae sleep forever where it would live out the rest of its days riding a comet around the universe. For more information read the full story here.

 

September 8th, 2016 – Asteroid Sample Retrieval Mission OSIRIS-REx Launches


OSIRIS-REx Mission Launches

Credit: NASA

The mission called OSIRIS-REx launched into space to rendezvous with asteroid Bennu. It’s a big milestone for NASA as it’s the first mission of its kind to go and retrieve a sample from this asteroid. It will help us answer questions such as how did this solar system originate? What was it like in the early stages of the solar system? In 2018 OSIRIS-REx will reach Bennu and begin to start analyzing and mapping out the asteroid. By 2020 the spacecraft will then begin the sample retrieval and finally make its return in 2023. It’ll be almost a decade of travelling in space but we are excited to see the kind of science that will come out of this mission. For the full story read here.

 

September 14th, 2016 – 2nd Largest Meteorite Discovered in Argentina


Gancedo Meteorite - Argentina

Credit: Ministerio de Gobierno

The world’s second largest meteorite is found in Argentina. It’s called Gancedo and it is believed to have collided with Earth about 4,000 years ago. It’s a hefty meteorite weighing in at 30 tonnes and was possibly 600 tonnes just before it entered Earth’s atmosphere. For the full story read here.

 

September 14th, 2016 – ESA’s Gaia Telescope Releases First Batch of Data – Plotting 1 Billion Stars in the Milky Way


Gaia 1 Billion Stars - ESA

Credit: ESA

European Space Agencies telescope called Gaia takes its first year of observations and produced its first sky map. This map plots about 1 billion stars in our own Milky Way. This mission will give us the largest amount of detail we have ever observed of our own Milky Way. The end goal is to get a better understanding of our own galaxy as well as end up with a 3D model of the Milky Way. This will allow us to even fly virtually anywhere and have a more intimate sense of where things are in our galaxy. For more information read the full story here.

 

September 14th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Why Pluto’s Moon Charon has a Red Cap


Charon Red Cap

Credit: NASA

Pluto’s moon Charon held a secret and mystery that astronomers and scientist didn’t understand until the New Horizons mission. Charon has a red cap on its pole and it is the first of its kind to see on a moon. The mystery behind the red cap revealed through New Horizons data that it was caused by none other than Pluto! The reddish cap is caused by the methane leaving Pluto and landing on Charon. What happens is the methane gets trapped by Charon’s gravity and begins to freeze over. For more information check out the full story here.

 

September 26th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover Mercury is Tectonically Active


Mercury Tectonically Active

Credit: NASA

Earth was believed to be the only planet that was tectonically active. However, the MESSENGER mission, which took photos and measurements of Mercury, found something interesting. Scientists found that Mercury had small fault scarps that were young. What this tells us that they were formed recently and that Mercury is tectonically active. It gives astronomers more data to study and understand more around this planetary feature. However, there is still much to learn about Mercury and its geology. For more information read the whole story here.

 

September 27th, 2016 – Elon Musk of Space X Reveals Mission Colonize Mars


Red Dragon - Space X - Mission to Mars

Credit: SpaceX

If NASA wasn’t giving you enough excitement about Mars then pay close attention to the billionaire genius Elon Musk of SpaceX. He revealed plans to not only go to Mars but to colonize it propelling humankind forward into a multi-planetary species. Musk didn’t want to only send 4 or 5 people on this mission to Mars but a rocket ship large enough to send 100 people. Of course this ambitious goal will involve many steps along the way, involving uncrewed missions to Mars as well as rover missions. For more on this exciting story check the rest here.

 

September 30th, 2016 – Rosetta Ends Mission with Final Dive into Comet 67P


Rosetta's Descent - ESA

Credit: ESA

What played out as one of the biggest emotional rollercoaster of the last two years turned out to have a happy and heartfelt ending. The Rosetta mission, developed by the European Space Agency, was set out to study and land on comet 67P. The plan to end the mission was to make Rosetta crash into the comet softly. We’re talking about 2 miles per hour, which is slower than a walk. Nevertheless, once it finally crashed and sent out its last signal to Earth as well as sent all the data and images before it crashed, the mission operators and team applauded as well as cried that this long and passionate mission had come to a complete success. For more information read here.

 

October 5th, 2016 – Scientists Discover Saturn’s Moon Dione has a Subsurface Ocean


Dione Subsurface Ocean

Credit: NASA / JPL

Scientists discover that Saturn’s moon Dione has a subsurface ocean that is 100 km deep beneath the moon’s icy crust. The Cassini spacecraft sent back this data which was the catalyst for this grand discovery. Researchers have known that other Saturnian moons like Enceladus and Titan harbor oceans themselves, but never had conclusive evidence that Dione would possess one as well. This tells us that microbes and other forms of organic life could be living in moons like Dione. Saturn has already been one fascinating planet with a hexagonal pole, razor thin rings, as well as moons that have oceans and even an atmosphere. For more information read the rest of the story here.

 

October 11th, 2016 – Obama Renews U.S Involvement to Landing Humankind on Mars by mid-2030’s


Obama at NASA

Credit: Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Obama reveals new plans to send American astronauts to land on Mars by the mid-2030’s. It’s a challenging goal to say the least due to the complications around a much longer trip than the Moon for example. Instead of a 3 day trip to the Moon we are talking about a year long trip to Mars. Of course astronauts have been living in space for a very long time, thanks to the ISS, but they’ve been a few hundred kilometers away from Earth instead of a hundred million kilometers. Although it’s a daunting challenge, it’s amazing to see the president revitalize science and challenge the space frontier. For more on this news story check the full article here.

 

October 12th, 2016 – A New Dwarf Planet is Discovered 13.6 Billion Kilometers from the Sun


2014 UZ224

Credit: NASA

Sometimes we think that by now we must have found all the major bodies and discoveries in our own solar system, but I’m happy to say that we are wrong! Astronomers discovered a new dwarf planet that is about 13.6 billion km away from the Sun. It’s one hell of a trip to get there and even spending “one year” on this dwarf planet or a trip around the Sun would take 1,100 years! It’s the amount of time we went from thinking the Earth was the center of the universe to discovering that the universe involved billions of galaxies and that we were the furthest thing from being the center of the universe. If the universe or our solar system has taught us anything it’s that there a large amount of empty space between the planets and stars. Who knows what other grand discoveries like this dwarf planet await us. For more information on this wonderful story check the rest out here.

 

October 12th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover that Starlight is Imperative to Form Building Blocks of Life


Ionized carbon atoms

Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers have discovered a fascinating revelation when it comes to what path needs to be taken to make complex life. It turns out that starlight or ultraviolet rays from stars are important to enable the chemistry in gas clouds to lead to the building blocks of life. How did they find this out? Well at the heart of this discovery is the notion that if you break any molecule down that you’ll see hydrogen, carbon, or oxygen. Astronomers already know that most of the universe is hydrogen. With that notion in mind astronomers took a look at cosmic clouds where hydrogen lingers. Specifically they looked at the Orion Nebula.

What astronomers were looking for in the nebula are a few things. They were looking for carbon (C), carbon-hydrogen (CH), ionized carbon-hydrogen (CH+), as well as ionized carbon (C+). So in english what this means is when starlight interacts with these hydrogen filled gaseous clouds you start to see areas heat up. That leads to an environment that produces hydrocarbons. The carbon molecules themselves which were left over in the gaseous clouds from supernovae start to interact or combine with these excited hydrogen molecules, creating CH+. However, it eventually captures an electron from a neutral molecule CH. This process or initiation then allows these molecules to form more complex life. For more information on this amazing story read more here.

 

October 12th, 2016 – ‘Asgardia’ to become the First Space Nation in 2017


Asgardia Space Nation

Credit: Asgardia.space

In 2017 there will be the launch of the first space nation in humankind called “Asgardia.” The purpose is to establish peace in space and allow access for scientists and people all over the world. It’ll be a slow roll out and it doesn’t mean that all earthlings will be able to fly up to space next year, but it’s a great start. This nation will also become part of the United Nations. For more information check out the full story here.

 

October 13th, 2016 – Astronomers Discover that there are 10 Times as Many Galaxies as Previously Thought


Deep Sky Survey

Credit: NASA / Hubble

The universe is unfathomable in how ridiculously big it is. Scientists have discovered that there is about 2 trillion galaxies in our universe! This is 10x more than we previously thought. Researchers took the data from Hubbles deep field survey coupled with 3D models of the early universe as well as some funky math to calculate the 2 trillion galaxies. For more information check out the full article here.

 

October 20th, 2016 – ESA Schiaparelli Mars’ Probe Malfunctions and Crash Lands on Mars


Exomars 2016 descent

Credit: ESA

European Space Agency’s (ESA) Exomars mission has an objective to send a satellite to orbit around Mars as well as deploy a lander on Mars called Schiaparelli. The lander was going to test a few instruments on Mars itself to lay the foundation of future ESA Mars missions. However, the lander had a malfunction during the descent and the thrusters only went off for a few seconds as opposed to 30 seconds. This caused the lander to have a nasty crash into Mars. It gave ESA a lot of learnings as well as a great display of team efforts from NASA and other scientists to take data from different satellites and rovers to understand more about what went wrong during this descent. For more information check out the rest of the story here.

 

October 28th, 2016 – New Horizon’s Spacecraft Sends Last Batch of Data to Earth


Pluto Western side of heart

Credit: NASA

One of the most exciting missions between 2015 and 2016 was the New Horizon’s mission to Pluto. After 15 months of transferring data billions of kilometers from Earth, the New Horizon spacecraft has finally sent everything. The data will be carefully looked at by not only scientists, but even citizen scientists as well (that means you!). This means there is still a lot of discoveries left to be found from this data and only time will tell what awaits us. For more information check out the rest of the story here.

 

November 2nd, 2016 – Construction of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Primary Mirrors Completed


James Webb Space Telescope Completes Construction of Primary Mirror

Credit: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is arguably one of the most exciting telescopes to come out of NASA. It’s the successor to the infamous Hubble Space Telescope. The primary mirrors on the JWST, which are made out of gold, reached completion. This is a big deal because it puts JWST in the next phase of testing and gearing up for the launch in 2018. Why astronomers and fans alike are excited for JWST is because it’ll allow us to look further back in the past than Hubble to 13.5 billion years ago. Not only will it allow us to look further back but be able to resolve objects in the night sky more clearly. So if you were already happy with all the gorgeous nebulae photos you’ve seen from Hubble then it’ll be that much better with JWST. For more information check out the full story here.

 

November 14th, 2016 – Supermoon Makes its Closest Approach to Earth since 1948


Supermoon 2016

Supermoon makes it grand appearance to earthlings and setting a record of being the closest to Earth since 1948. Specifically it’s about 356,509 km away from Earth. However, it’s not the biggest spectacle as in 2015 it was about 356,877 km away. It still made the books of course but it gives you some perspective. Either way it’s always great to get the public outdoors and looking at the beautiful Moon. For more on this story or images check out the article here.

 

November 22nd, 2016 – NASA Finds Huge Deposit of Water Ice under Martian Surface


Water Ice on Mars

Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) discovered water ice the size of Lake Superior located underneath Mars’ surface. This is located in Mars’ Utopia Planitia region. This is a big discovery because typically at this latitude of the location, water ice deposits don’t normally exist. The reason is any water ice that forms on the surface of Mars goes through the process of sublimation and goes straight from a solid to a gas. Essentially the water ice barely last long enough to even melt into a liquid and goes straight into water vapor. However, the water ice discovery is shielded by the surface allowing the deposit to be turned straight into vapor. This new finding may give future astronauts more resources on obtaining more water. For more information on this story check out the full story here.

 

December 29th, 2016 – NASA’s NEOWISE Mission Discovers a Comet that will Pass by Earth


2016 WF9 Comet

Credit: NASA / JPL

The NASA asteroid-hunting project called NEOWISE spotted one asteroid or comet that will pass by Earth around February 25, 2017. It’s still unclear whether the object 2016 WF9 is an asteroid or a comet as its behavior borders on both. The orbital path of this object takes 4.9 years to complete and travels inward passing the asteroid belt until it swings inside Earth’s orbit. It will be about 51 million kilometers away from Earth.

However, the other object or more clearly a comet called C/2016 NEOWISE will flyby within Mercury’s orbit. This object is no threat to Earth and to be honest the 2016 WF9 is in that same category. The comet C/2016 should be visible with a nice pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

NEOWISE has been showcasing its importance to science and planetary defense with a track record of discovering 34,000 asteroids. It did have some issues but was later reactivated in 2013. Collecting data on near Earth asteroids or objects is vital to be aware of when Earth is actually in danger. However, there are still major questions and discussions that need to be addressed when such a disaster may happen and who will take charge. For now we have NEOWISE keeping its eye peeled on these objects. For more on this story check the full article here.

Summary
2016 Astronomy Discoveries
Article Name
2016 Astronomy Discoveries
Description
Your 2016 guide to all the astronomical discoveries. It's all here so you can ensure you captured all of 2016!
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Zain is a well travelled astronomy blogger and has been writing since 2013. He has a passion for science education and has been accepted into NASA social program for MAVEN launch. When he's not being a space cadet he's rock climbing outdoors with friends.

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